Wednesday, November 28, 2012


    So I had the great seeming privilege of seeing what has to be the hot ticket of the current coming season, the recently ex-Mrs. Tom Cruise in Dead Accounts which I thought was going to be about dead accountants.  As it was, it was about a jammed night in the theater, because apparently there is great curiosity about seeing her in the pretty flesh, or many people know that Norbert Leo Butz, her co-star, or as should be correctly heralded, the one who carries any show he's in, so whoever else is in it doesn't matter, even if she was married to Tom Cruise.  The play is a less than a slight comedy with a premise that turns out to be ingenious but is revealed too late, set in a wonderful kitchen with a roof that recedes and has slats in it and lights up in brilliant ways in-between scenes.  But none of it is substantial enough to make up for the price of the ticket, even when, as in my case, it was free, as I was invited by Rex Reed.  He was, from all appearances, slightly more infuriated than I by the events, or lack of them, onstage.  
    But we were both enchanted by Norbert Leo Butz who tears through and up anything he's in, a marvel of charm and multilayered gifts, though we were both concerned about his health as he eats about six pints of ice cream in the first scene and even if it's yogurt he has to be in trouble unless he goes offstage and throws up or it's Activia in which case he'd have the runs.  He also swills several cans of Coke it looks like (I had a very good seat since I was with Rex) in which case he would have to be up all night from the caffeine.
   All of this compulsive behavior happens immediately, so one is so caught up in the frenzy that the presence of the sweet(I have to assume she is) Katie Holmes seems very much beside the point, as it probably was to Tom Cruise.  She is slender and solicitous, as her voice is, so one strains for a note of specialness, that doesn't really make itself evident until just before the curtain call, when she lets down her hair in a Rapunzelian moment, as if to tell us what there is/was of special femininity that got her into such an elevated(in terms of US magazine) position, Hollywoodmarriagewise.  The play itself is even more fragile than she is, and it is not until the second young woman, as the recent ex-wife of Norbert appears, with an even reedier voice that Katie sort of holds her own.
    One has to wonder, in this era of multi-million dollar losses, global tragedies, and the recent devastation in this once great city, why anyone would put up several million, which even the flimsiest of productions costs on Broadway, for what could be at best a modest success.  There is a wisp of wit in what is revealed, at too long last, as Norbert's folly, a clever crime for which we do not know the results or ramifications by the final curtain, and remains a puzzle as theatergoers who have never seen each other before are brought into a kind of camaraderie as they leave, asking what were until that moment complete strangers, "Did you understand the ending?"
    Jack O'Brien, usually a very clever director, maybe understood.  Theresa Rebeck who wrote the thing, is, according to my host, a great favorite of critics.  So perhaps one of them will be moved to explain it.  Meanwhile, the woman who played Norbert's mother, Jayne Houdyshell, was valiant, and Josh Hamilton, a touching Cincinnati pal of everyone in that terrific kitchen, got to kiss Katie, which seemed a source of great relief to the audience, all of whom were probably wondering the same thing:  Huh?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

An Old Friend Found

     Saw a remarkable play, very sad, but good, about end of life, called THE OUTGOING TIDE, conveniently just a few blocks up 59th Street at a nice little theater,59 E. 59th Street,  acted very well by Peter Strauss, Ian Lithgow(John's son, and a ringer for him) and my old, loved friend Michael Learned.  Michael played Xantippe, Socrates' wife, in a staged, gorgeously dressed reading of a play I wrote some years ago, called THE WOMEN UPSTAIRS, about what the women were doing during Plato's Symposium.  Kind of the other side of the quad from the fellows who ruled the day.
     It was veddy intellectual, and I went back to Bryn Mawr to write it at the invitation of President Pat McPherson, to make sure it was authentic.  When I'd told Pat the idea, she said "Tell Mabel."  So I had the great joy of working with Mabel Lang, great Greek professor and formidable (and scary she seemed to me as an undergraduate)scholar, who waltzed me through ancient Athens so I actually thought I had been there.  We sort of constructed the text together, or, at least, she aimed me in the right direction for every scene which I then wrote and returned for her approval.  When it was finished, I brought her flowers.  And she said, this woman I had thought intimidating, "But I should be giving flowers to you!! I've never done anything CREATIVE before."  And with the word 'creative', she actually danced around the office.  This epitome of the old spinster schoolteacher.
     It was as heart-lifting a moment as I've had in my life.  And the play was actually funny if you didn't mind blank verse.   I wrote it in that because on the way there, in Philadelphia, I'd dropped my typewriter, it still was then, so the carriage locked halfway across the page.  I took that as a sign, and a guide to the direction I was meant to go, as I often do with  what otherwise would seem disasters, and so wrote the whole thing in blank verse.  With songs, yet, ancient seeming but really quite melodic and lovely, I must say in all lack of humility, written singing, as I wafted around the campus I loved, realizing I was having a blessing, to be able to return to that great institution in what is laughingly called mid-life, hang out, swim, write, and be with what was going on then with the undergrads. It was a true rejuvenation, in every sense.  
     Joanna Semel Rose, about whom I have written before-- she was the smartest one in the college when I was an undergraduate, a few years ahead of me-- was kind enough to love the play, and sponsored a production some years later.  But early on there was this glorious staged reading in Beverly Hills at the Canon theatre, in gorgeous costume, where Michael played Xantippe, and a raft of lovely actresses played the other roles, and a beautiful young woman with a gorgeous voice played Chorus, and sang the songs.
    I hired a videographer to record the evening, memorable and exquisite as it was.  She forgot to plug in the sound cable.  I marked it a huge leap in my spiritual journey that I did not kill her.
     But I still have the tape, pre-recorded of Michelle, the singer, (I think Piper Laurie had found her for me) so the lovely songs, and they were, still exist.  They played them off stage for the production that Bryn Mawr did with Joanna's backing.  This time the students were in charge of arranging the videotaping, which once again went awry.  So I have to believe it wasn't meant to be.  Oh well.
    Anyway, I am happy to have seen Michael, although the play, except for the performances which were upliftingly fine, was a downer.  Afterwards Michael and some other friends of hers who had come to see the play had a sidewalk discussion about end of life plans, in which I did not participate.  I mean I still barge through life as if everything were still ahead.  And who knows.  Maybe it is.
   A musical?  Some more songs?  A new book?  An agent who reads?  God?    

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Purpose of Life

    As it seems to be, as we move into Thanksgiving, is to enjoy it.  Celebrate our ability to cook, as much as the joy of having a really stupid bird to do it to, and the revealed fact that we have hearts to open and check if everyone we know has someplace to go.  We are, I believe, a genuinely caring people, we Americans, even if we get sidelined into absurdity with a frequency that is dazzling.
    Now that the first blush, and the deeper reddening of the Petraeus scandal is off the rose not to mention various body parts of America, especially Paula's upper arms, the newspapers can return to their real interest: war.  I have been pondering the last few days the early days of literature, Homer and the rest of the kids, wondering why it is that humanity has been consistently propelled in the direction of battle and conquest.  I mean, God comes into this a little, I would think, since Bill Maher notwithstanding, these past few weeks with their disasters and salvations have sung to me clearly of the Hand of God.  Even as parts of the country sank, its basic spirit was lifted, along with its continuation as an evolving manifestation of its founding principles.  All sounding pretty arch, unless you actually read them, and see what Greaties Jefferson and Franklin were from the creative point of view, not to mention sentence structure.
    So the United States for the moment having been preserved, except of course for the states that now wish to secede, the Middle East is free to flare up, which it could not wait to do.  It's a head-scratcher really, though, why people want to hurt each other, our tenure on the planet being so short and fragile to begin with.  I have to figure it's about greed, fear, all the negatives of human nature that make us willing and ready to hurt.
   But not on Thanksgiving.  
   To cure myself of this mawkish love of country I am going to all the movies just coming out.  Yesterday, Tuesday, which I thought was Wednesday, I saw Starlet, a curiously touching little movie with Dree Hemingway, Papa's granddaughter, who is indeed as charming and fine-featured as one would wish, and apparently sufficiently free-spirited enough to unselfconsciously play a young porn star.  Today I am going to see everything else, before making my contribution to the Thanksgiving dinner at Sue's house, up a few flights of stairs.  Some of my closest friends in life have been Sues, but this one belongs to the Angel Carleen, whom I have known and loved since San Francisco.  I am making Cranuberry Much, a side dish I learned to make when I went to a cooking class in D.C. during the tenure of Jimmy Carter, when I was learning about my country from Marty Hoffman, patriot husband of my loved classmate Muggy, and staying with Sally Nevius, who took me to her cooking class, where, because of the then current climate, they taught turkey and Grits. 
    Cranuberry Much has chopped celery in it, only slightly cooked, so it crunches.  I have the same feeling about America.     

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Day of Redemption

   So today was, after all the difficulties that have, I would venture, captured our attention, from not losing our country, which we didn't, (relieved exhale) to finding out a great general was only a man(what a Surprise!) nonetheless a very positive day.  Certainly for me, at least.
   I had the great pleasure of meeting with the smartest woman to go to Bryn Mawr, which is really saying something, and afterwards seeing the scion of a great restaurant family in his new digs.  The woman, Joanna Semel Rose, frightened me when I knew her towards the end of her college career, as she was so patently smart I felt failed in her company.  This was later enhanced and intensified when I had the great pleasure of meeting and interacting on a pretty deep level with Joe Mankiewicz, the great writer/director of some of the best films of our time, or at least that time, and he reinforced my impression of her, as she had worked for  him. Joe had been at a dinner at Bennett Cerf's, where he expressed the opinion that of all the writers who were bestsellers at the time, the only one who was really a good writer was Gwen Davis-- I didn't know him, and was yet to meet Bennett, who told me when we did meet that he said at that dinner: "That's going to cost me some money," as he was bidding for my next book.(He didn't get it, but Doubleday did, and it was TOUCHING, which ended up in an important publishing scandal/setback/disappointment/borderline obscenity, and was the reason for my friendship with Kurt Vonnegut, which made the whole ordeal worthwhile.) 
    Anyway, I loved Joe, who came to visit me in San Francisco with his wife,  and he loved Joanna.  So in the ensuing years I always felt privileged if a little handicapped to be in her company, as she is truly extraordinary, and a great argument for women, many of whom are incredibly special and making the world a better place.  We spent some good time today and she approved of my new book, which means a great deal to me, though I am not saying what it is because I am publishing it anonymously, as I think befitting, since if I didn't have the consciousness of the great women(and some not so great) who have helped fashion me, it wouldn't exist.  So I feel it is from all of us.  To the benefit of all of us, I distinctly hope.
   After that, I stopped in to the new Sirio's on Fifth Avenue.  Sirio Maccioni was the great restaurateur I wrote about for The Wall Street Journal Europe when I had my strange and curious and unexpected career with them, and I loved him and Egi, his wife, and their sons.  Marco was dashing, handsome and charming, and I worried about him, because I wondered how it would affect someone so open-hearted and caring (he really loved dogs, including mine) to have such an overwhelming dad.  But I am delighted to report he not only grew more handsome and genial, he seems completely on top of his act, not to mention Sirio's.  The new restaurant is flagrantly glamorous, and people seem to be flocking to its dashing interior by Adam Tihany, where they actually look as tastefully glittering as the place.  
    I was genuinely relieved, as I have watched with some regret the downsizing of 'Dashing' during my run on the planet, as people seem to have lost interest in what is genuinely attention-worthy.  Instead we have really silly people capturing what is the truly diminished limelight, like the Kardashians, who have nothing really going for them but a bright dead lawyer  father who I think would be embarrassed.  So it is a joy to see an heir of a darling family standing up to fully meet the task, better-looking than ever, increasingly gracious, married to a lovely woman who has produced yet another winner, Massimo.  I so love Happy Endings, or, even more, Happy Continuings.

Monday, November 12, 2012

How Silly We Are

     So having just averted losing this great country as its Framers envisioned it, to the audible relief of a winning percentage of its inhabitants, (you could hear the exhale, almost as palpable as the storm,) we can now return to our true preoccupation: gossip.  That the staid New York Times, since its exhale, has right hand columned Petraeus' infidelity shows what a still young and very funny country we are.
    When I was visiting my friend the journalist Sandra Burton in Paris where she was a bureau chief, every afternoon at 4 the limousine of Mitterand would park downstairs on the rue Meziere, where lived in the same building Dominique Sanda.  Of course it was France, so people hardly noticed.
    How silly we are, and how sad that the poor man can't just do a little tap dance on the side, exhausted and stressed as he had to be,without being lynched.
Oh, well.
On the local destruction front, the ugly crane that snapped outside my window has been secured, but that doesn't help the building.  Along with being silly, we are apparently so greedy that the skyline of Manhattan is being savaged by this monstrosity, with its undulating blue and yellow facade that looks like a poor grade of plastic.  The seemingly better news is it will go only up to the 75th floor, not the 100th as was previously rumored.  And the hundred and first floor penthouse bought by an Arab in advance will be only the Seventy-fifth floor, though he is still an Arab.
     During the snow I took refuge at a restaurant behind my building.  The only other patron  turned out, as is my wont, to be a story: he is an engineer for the building.  So he did tell me of how cheap the materials are that he is using, and how other owners in this city are not that different from Donald Trump, though one hopes they are not such stupid bullies.
   Ah, New York.  Destination of Dreamers and those with true aspirations.  But that was Ago.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012


    Well, we aren't exactly dancing in the streets, the streets being hobbled by a serious snowfall.  But mark how it came the day AFTER the voting, so people were not discouraged from going to the polls.  
    I am convinced in the part of me that is a serious secret believer, that all this was the hand of God-- don't tell Bill Maher.  That for all the horror of the storm, the loss in life and property, it gave Obama the opportunity to appear presidential, which he is, and so saved this country.  And it is a great country, that deserves to continue on the idealistic rails that were laid down by the Framers, who, the best of them at least(Ben Franklin and Jefferson) believed in Reincarnation.  So I hope they were here to see.
    But we are embracing in the hallways.  Cerene, the wonderful, big-breasted bird who helps keep this building in order, and brings me clean sheets and a vacuum cleaner once a week, said she had to give me a hug, and did, as she knew how worried I was.  It was like being a part of a very high end soap opera-- nobody knew how it would turn out; the suspense was terrible and wonderful.  But it gave a reason to get out of bed every morning, and fall asleep at long, restive last,  every night.
    A reason to live, really, loving your country,  caring deeply what happens to it.  And seeing it work the best it can work, when people really put themselves on the line, or at the end of it.
    Cerene had to wait an hour and a half to vote, after waiting a useless half hour that got her no nearer to her vote, making it necessary for her to go home and get something to eat (she is diabetic) and then come back and wait again.  But it was worth it, because we won.  The country won.
     I would like to say something gracious about Mitt Romney, as our president did, saying he was going to meet with him and enlist his thoughts about the future, but I can't.  That Obama was that generous of spirit is proof of who the man is, after the flanks of Romney's army stood stubbornly insisting Ohio was not over, his minions waiting at the airports with their suitcases read to fly out and fight against the announced result.  I did not see Obama's victory speech until today, I was so exhausted last night, having fought this whole campaign right along with him, at least in my belly, which was heavily engaged.  I think all  felt this way who supported him, even those of us who had friends we could temporarily not speak to, because it was so hard to understand how they could possibly support Mitt.  I mean, just listen to his name.  Reaction to who he was, or, more important, who he wasn't, was absolutely visceral.  Much as I didn't like W., I never felt quite the same degree of distrust and.. sorry, God... loathing.
     He seems to me, Romney does, to be the box he came in.  
     So thank God, who had a vested interest in this great Republic from its very beginning-- check the beliefs of its Founding Fathers.  And thank all of you who voted.  Even those who voted against him, because that was all part of the drama.  Apparently even the Almighty enjoys great Theater once in a while.  Or else He/She wouldn't have given us Shakespeare, and, at too long last, someone as intelligently eloquent as this remarkable man.  

Sunday, November 04, 2012

The Sword of Damocles

    The broken crane on 57th Street hangs over my neighborhood like the Sword of Damocles, an expression that many of us have used all our lives, that we may not have known the meaning of exactly, like my friend Susie confessed, and I shared in the ignorance.  Apparently in the court of Dyonisus there was a sycophant (we all know what that means) named Damocles, who envied Dionisus it may be spelled, until he said "Maybe you'd like to walk in my shoes" which he didn;t say exactly but may have been thinking how Bob Dylan might make it into a song.  So they changed places, and Damocles had a fine time enjoying all the wealth and comfort until he noticed a sword hanging over his head, and Dionisus told him "That's how I feel all the time, governing."  
    The sword that hangs over us at this moment, forgive me, Republicans, many of whom I count as true friend, is Mitt Romney.  I have never been so uneasy in my life.  Call me on Wednesday.  He is not so much an unknown as an empty suit, a bully, and a man who changes postures as some change their clothes.  I'm scared.
    But today I saw a movie that actually made me forget the election: A LATE QUARTET.  Rush.  It is an argument for art like none I have seen before, and I am grateful and cleansed by the experience.
    Along with other disasters, my MAC, preceding the disaster, died, and I have now to go to the Apple store on 5th(I am at the one on the West Side,) to see how much, if any of it, can be saved.
    These are the times that try men's heels.  Are you listening, Mitt?

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Halloween Postponed

    Last night was a disappointment to the children in my neighborhood, with the exception of Eva.  Eva is a bright, beautiful tiny dark-eyed provider of light in my building, even when the electricity might fail, as was feared with the recent dreadful disaster/crisis brought about by Hurricane Sandy, that flooded much of the East Coast and gave the lie to those who refuse to acknowledge Global Warming. (I just made a typo, and wrote 'Global Warning,' which I think it indeed was.)  
    Anyway, Eva, all pink and sequined in her Fairy ensemble, with a tutu and shiny shoes, and a wand that she was to have tapped along with the spoken 'Abracadabra' that she could not quite manage, still being two,-- though she did say 'Baba da kababa' while hitting me on the head with her wooden, sequined star wand--  was undeterred from the wonders that are Halloween to the kids, and those of us who are still basically kids enough so it is our favorite holiday.  She passed me in the hall on the way to meet her grandmother, who is lucky and clever enough to live in the same building, so she can see this little package of delight as much and as often as she wants to.  
    But the story on the street was different, as confused tourists dragged wheeled suitcases to different hotels, the planes having been cancelled and buildings in this vicinity evacuated because of the hanging crane on 57th street, a testament to the greed of men even if they aren't Mitt Romney.  The building was a hideous, plastic blue and yellow(can you imagine?)  eyesore going up, in this unnecessarily overbuilt city, where there are already too many empty apartments because no one has the money to live in them, but of course there is an Arab who has paid a rumored ninety million dollars for a yet-to-be-gotten to hundredth floor, which will be only seventy five floors in reality, enough to destroy the view of Central Park for for those who live in Carnegie Tower, and more than enough to ruin the previously iconic skyline seen from Central Park.  Quelle horreur!   
    There was a mystical thrust for me for the event.  I had called my teacher of the spirit, the consciousness raising maestro Jack Kornfield, with whom I have studied since the 70s, to ask for an assignment for Halloween, hoping for inspiration.  Jack, probably tired from non-stop workshops and lectures, rather than doing a guided meditation, said I should read The Tempest during the tempest.  I did, and as a once Shakespeare major, was stunned by how much I missed, and wished I had a summary of the plot, the kind of thing my stepfather Puggy used to read to us at dinner on Thursday nights before we went to the Met, something he had a season subscription to, in order to feel as rich as he had struggled to become, having been an impoverished and orphaned Jew who had risen high (read The Motherland.)  All during the Milton Cross summary, my mother would nag "Skip! Skip!"  But he never did, and we would go by limousine(not so much a symbol as proof of the fact that he was afraid to learn to drive) to the Met, then on 39th St.  Once in his seat, one of four, he would turn devotedly to the opera and promptly fall asleep.  So my experience of opera is limited, and except for a few, less than addicted.   
    Still, when I walked on Broadway and saw that the Met, now at Lincoln Center, a few blocks from where I live, was playing that VERY night a new opera of The Tempest, I did consider it an answer to a kind of prayer, and bought a ticket.  So there I was, beside a lovely couple from Brazil, who had endured the hardships of this difficult time, staying in a hotel downtown where there was no power, and no hot water, his young wife being pregnant.  He is a lawyer and an opera buff, but what he was looking for was a genuine opera, and this one is modern, atonal and dreadful, and had I not been seated next to them, finding them dear and interesting, would have left at the first intermission.  There were scenic splendors, but the music was, in many instances, a literal screech, with Ariel, the spirit in thrall and service to Prospero, actually screaming her entrance.  All in all an agony, except that I'm now clear on the plot, though I still wonder what it was that Jack would be teaching as he expressed a wish to do.  Shakespeare's magic is, I'm sure, a course for scholars.  But I would have enjoyed actual music.